And the First Review Award Goes too…

Long-time blog- and real-life-friend, Jeff, currently doing some great work over at the Faith-ing Project. He’s got some books on Amazon, too, so it was really nice of him to take the time to go over to the Favored One page and say this:

Also, even longer-time friend, and I guess you could say international, friend, Jayne Bazeley, messaged me over the weekend and said,

Hi Jenn! I just finished Favored One. I saved it until I got back from Summer Camp so that I could really enjoy it. Which I did, very much. Using the proper Hebrew names for people and places helped to see the familiar story with fresh eyes. C.S.Lewis would have approved
Really really good. Thank you.

Thank you, Jayne.

You can also help with the reviews. And if you’re anywhere close to local, I hope you’ll come to the Sanctuary at Woodville on 28 September for my book launch/signing. Excerpts, Q&A, and books. With me writing my name in them. Christmas is coming, and a book about Mary the mother of Jesus might be just the right gift.

Looking forward to seeing you!

Celebrate with Me!

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 11.26.55 AM

Approximately eleven years ago, my first book, Trees in the Pavement, was released to the world, courtesy of Christian Focus Publications. Today, even though the book itself has been written for almost as long, Favored One hit the websites. This time, though, Notes on Pilgrimage, the new publishing imprint of the Sanctuary at Woodville, is the publisher. You can order a copy directly from us if you contact me here. (Yes, we’re not currently set up for one-click sales, so you will actually have to interact with me, but there’s so little interpersonal contact when shopping these days, don’t you think this is better?) If you like one-click minus interpersonal, though, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the other usual suspects are also carrying it.

There are some things to be said both for and against “self-publishing” and versus traditional publishing–some of which I have said, for better or worse, many years ago on this very blog. I might regret some of what I said, but not all of it. I myself have read some self-published works which are quite dismal–but also some others that are frankly astonishingly good. I think that publishing is a pretty goal-consistent initiative for the Pilgrimage, so I hope this one won’t be our only book. It will probably help if lots of people buy and read and review and like it, too, by the way. Hope you enjoy it! I’d love to hear from you.





Favored One is available for pre-order!


It publishes a week from tomorrow. You should probably get on that.

Screen Shot 2019-05-13 at 11.26.55 AM.png

Don’t forget to come to the book launch in September, too!


We should probably not get our hopes up. And you might not even be here anymore. But back when this blog was newer (and I was actually writing it), we used to talk about this book I had going that I wanted to publish, and guess what? I’m about to publish it!

Actually, the Pilgrimage and the Sanctuary at Woodville are going to publish it together. We are really excited about it and I will be sharing more information over the next couple of months, but for now I want to give a little love to my first book, Trees in the Pavement.


They were cutting the branches off the trees again.

When Zari first arrived in East London, she had wondered about the trees. She had never seen any fields and farms in London, like there were at home in Kosovo. But there were more trees. Or at least you noticed them here. In Kosovo, there were entire forests, but no one thought about them because they were, well, just there.

In London, the trees look uncomfortable growing out of the pavement – as if they were refugees in a foreign country, too.

Zari’s story takes you from the fighting in Kosovo to the concrete streets of the city of London – but there is conflict here too. You can’t leave problems behind just because you leave your country as a refugee in the back of a lorry full of cheese! Making friends is a minefield in itself – and the secrets she discovers in the family just add to the trouble.

War, peace, faith, and nationality – everything is changing in Zari’s life.

It’s not just the trees that are feeling uncomfortable.

Trees was published by Christian Focus Publications in 2008, just shy of 11 years ago. Pick up a copy here!

There was a book signing in 2008. The book sold out. There will be a book signing/launch event for the new book, too. Stay tuned!

A Tale Simultaneously Hilarious and Sad

Wordy Wednesday

Tomorrow is T-TAC (Third Time’s a Charmer)’s first birthday. I didn’t forget the birthday, but somehow (maybe because because I’ve given both TWCN and Smiley-Guy my  most favourite kid-things for Christmases and birthdays for the last five years already) I forgot that it might behoove us to get him a present–until my Paul said, “What are we getting him?” and I realised that I had no idea, but I knew we hadn’t given him any books yet–which is quite unlike me.

This question instigated a flurry of emails between us and TheBro and Sister-in-Lu, and at one point Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham came up in the discussion. (Paul brought it up, but it happens to be a particularly a propos book for me.) The BroFam already has that book, but my Paul decided to make an MP3 recording of himself reading it, so that maybe sometimes the kids could listen to him reading it to them even though we’re geographically so far away from each other. (There is a history of this kind of activity in my family, which I will describe some Memory Monday or other.) He emailed the MP3 to TheBro, and to Sister-in-Lu, and to me.

I was eating my lunch in my office at work, with Oscar staring longingly at me while I did so, when the MP3 arrived, and because it was lunchtime, I played it.


About at the point where Sam-I-Am is asking the unnamed irritated protagonist if he would like green eggs and ham in a box or with a fox, Shemp, at home in the background of the recording, shook himself and his collar jingled. Oscar sat right up.

I don’t know how one dog can tell another dog’s collar jingle, but I guess it’s possible, because Oscar, shy guy that he is, was definitely more engaged than, say, when RevCD brings her dog into the office. It seemed like identifying Shemp helped him realise the voice he was hearing was my Paul’s, as well. So Oscar continued head up, ears cocked, for the rest of the story until just before the denouement, when Shemp shook himself again. At that, Oscar leapt off the office couch and began trotting back and forth, back and forth between the door and the desk, whimpering and whining. Then he lay by the armchairs and stared wistfully into the middle distance, as if he could make Shemp materialise by so doing.

Wistful and confused. (For more funny pet stories, "like" the That's a Jenn Story facebook page!)

Wistful and confused. (For more funny pet stories, “like” the That’s a Jenn Story facebook page!)

My Paul and I had a two-minute emergency Skype session so Oscar could see him and Shemp on the computer, but all that did was make both dogs run to their respective doors in hopes that the other one would run through it. It took about another hour for Oscar to jump back up on the couch and curl up as he normally does.

They say most dogs have the equivalent IQ of a human toddler. T-TAC’s not even a toddler yet, and he doesn’t really know Uncle Paul or Auntie Jenn that well yet, but I’m pretty sure he has a better chance of figuring the recorded story out than Oscar ever would.

Day of Greatness and Whinging

Photo by Jennwith2ns 2009

Narnia? Yeah, I’ve been there.

I learned today from Englewood Review of Books that this day marks the birth of–get ready for it–Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle and CS Lewis!


I know.

The day should’ve started out with lamp posts or time travel or something. And actually, when my alarm went off at 6.30 this morning, my first sight, as I rolled over to shut off my alarming iPhone on the window sill, was of a greenish moon still glowing in a pale grey sky and shining a pathway of light on the ice that is starting to glaze the pond. So . . . that probably counts. But I mean it should start like that every year.

So this is probably a good day–the birth of three writers as well as whom I can never hope to scribe (see?)–to break my November mostly-silence and update you on the progress of my NaNoWriMo novel. I use the term progress loosely. Also the word novel. I have about 12,000 more words to go to meet the 50,000-word minimum, and it turns out I can churn out words pretty quickly if I have to, so even though I only have a day and a half left to churn, I’m pretty sure I’ll make it.

Whether or not the words I’m churning have much relation to each other, let alone are compelling or even interesting, is something else entirely. As I mentioned last time, which was almost a month ago now, I don’t do stream-of-consciousness writing well over extended periods of time or extended amounts of words. I always (by which I mean, the last time I did this, and this time, too) lose hold of the story like some crochet pattern I’m not advanced enough to really read yet, until it ceases to be a story and is just a sort of tortured verbal purging–which doesn’t actually even purge anything, because all I’m doing is trying to reach a word quota.

For a little while there was some plot progression, and after that unraveled, there was character development, but now I’ve decided I want to entirely overhaul the plot and the characters, but I haven’t got time to start from scratch. Which means that what I’m doing now cannot really be described as writing at all. I’m not even sure that the words can be described as words.

Sometime during the third week or so, one of the local NaNo organisers (whom I’ve actually met this time, thanks to the write-ins) sent out an email to motivate us for the final push. In her missive, she gave us “tips” on how to expand our word-count. She suggested writing extra scenes, spelling out numbers, not deleting mistakes, writing out contractions. I have not only been doing all of these things, but I have been dividing up my compound words (and some multisyllabic non-compound words that just seem–well, too long to be a word, especially in a book where everybody is suddenly speaking with Dick-and-Jane-type precision and lack of imagination, eg., “No, I have not done that,” said Veronica, instead of, “No, I haven’t,” said Veronica), leaving out hyphens, and other such shenanigans. If I mistype a word, I leave it there and retype it until my fingers stop spazzing out and actually type the right thing.

Apparently none of this stuff is cheating? One NaNo participant intimated to me that she might even insert some writing she had done for college, which technically had nothing to do with her novel, but which had been written during the confines of November and was keeping her from actually having the time to work on such a frivolous thing as a novel. I am pretty sure that is cheating, but I hereby declare that, as soon as I have finished writing this post, it, along with my other November posts, all of which are about NaNoWriMo and this novel, are getting copied and pasted onto my “manuscript.” And yes. I’m going to go into them and edit all the contractions, hyphenated and compound words. Because frankly that seems less time-wasteful than what has been passing for “writing” around here lately. Also, the NaNo word counter incrementally subtracts words from your total anyway, so if Microsoft Word is telling you you’ve written 38,200, the NaNo “validator” will tell you you’ve only written 37,756 or something like that. It’s enough to make any writer gnash her teeth and . . . be a little dishonest, I guess. But I’m confessing it to you, The Readership. (Look! A compound word! More or less.) And if I’m confessing it to you, that makes it not-cheating, right? (Nod your heads.)

I find, as I write this, I’m feeling rather bitter about NaNoWriMo and I can’t decide if it’s because I’m stuck in a bad narrative I can’t actually edit, or if it’s because I secretly feel disillusioned that the above kinds of fudging are more or less acceptable in the endeavour, and though that doesn’t mean I have to capitulate, I won’t actually finish if I don’t. Or if it’s because I know I can write and I’m angry that I have a computer file of over 120+ pages which don’t say anything interesting.

I have just over one more day to finish, and I can–at least via the above-confessed cheat tactics–and there’s a part of me that feels like if I don’t, then those useless words will really have been wasted, as well as my silence on this blog and my write-ins at the book shop and my parents’ house. But there’s also a part of me that feels like I don’t care. I’ll write this story someday, in my own time, and then it may still not be fabulous, but it may at least be a story. In the meantime, I’ll leave the rest of the evening to the memory of three people who actually could tell a story–and hope some of the spirit (or Spirit) that inspired them rubs off or something.

An appropriate inscription for the book I have actually written


I feel like someone is pressing their thumbs into my forehead just above my eyebrows, in and down, and somehow my eyebrows are trying to raise themselves up under this pressure, even though there is surely no need. Also, the voyage of the Dawn Treader may or may not be occurring at this very instant inside my stomach, with Eustace and Edmond and Lucy about to be catapulted from Narnia into the real world at any moment. I know, that’s a weird analogy, but it’s the only one I can think of presently, and it may be better than my usual manner of speaking freely about unpleasant bodily functions.

The reason I am feeling this way is because I have so far just had a very wonderful weekend, though not the kind you may be inferring from the above description. I, two other adults and seven teenagers just spent the last two days largely not eating. You’re not supposed to brag or even maybe talk about your spiritual exercises/disciplines, but I’m not. I just have to tell you a little bit about this one so I can give you an idea about what happened this weekend.

As you may know, the youth group at Now Church has been gearing up for some time to attempt World Vision’s “30-Hour Famine” project. World Vision has been raising funds for their relief work among impoverished people around the world, using this method, for decades. Basically, groups of teenagers band together and commit to not eating for 30 hours if people will sponsor them, and then the money gets sent to World Vision. The teens all spend most, if not all, of their 30 hours together in one place (often a church building), and play games and learn things about some of the people they may be helping.

Last year, fewer of you may remember, the Now Church youth group had an overnight vigil on Easter weekend. When I was planning the youth year back in September and trying to figure out how to fit in all our traditional activities with the new ones we wanted to initiate, it occurred to me that there might be something kind of apropos about doing a 30-hour fast and an Easter vigil at the same time. After all, God came and lived the life of a real human being alongside us, and suffered on our behalf, and, albeit in a much smaller, less cosmic way, the youth group would also be “suffering” on someone’s behalf. Last year’s vigil went from Waiting Saturday evening into Easter morning, but because we didn’t really sleep at all that night (its being a vigil and stuff), the kids were all wrecked for their family Easter celebrations the next day. So this year I decided we’d go from Good Friday into Waiting Saturday and everyone could go home and recover from fasting for at least 12 hours before eating lots of ham and other un-kosher delicacies on Resurrection Sunday.

Then things at Now-Church got really busy and, along with planning other things for other events, all I could really invest in preparation for the “Famine” was to keep telling kids to get sponsors, and occasionally to put up some sort of display in our “coffee hour” hall after church services. Which is how, on Tuesday this week, I found myself working something like 10 hours trying to put together a schedule for this thing.

But the time was really all in the details, because I found, as I went along, that the World Vision hunger-awareness activities with the Easter-vigil sort of activities went together better than I had ever hoped. Part of this might have been because I had decided to take a Biblical-salvation-history approach instead of last year’s Stations-of-the-Cross approach. So we could talk about the relational rift between humans and God that started with Adam and Eve, and how all of creation got messed up because of that, and then we could talk about some of the messed-up-ness, like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan.

Then I realised that not only was it Good Friday and the beginning of our 30-Hour Famine, but it was also Earth Day, and we had chosen as our local service project (recommended by World Vision) to pick up trash in the general Now-Church neighbourhood. I couldn’t get over how perfect this was–it made me so happy. Not that we made a huge dent in Our Fair City’s litter problem, but that Good Friday, the day that we celebrate an event which, if the Bible’s true, had an impact not just on people but on all of creation (on account of the Creator’s dying because of the brokenness), and here it was, falling on that hippie holiday that so many Christians I know scoff at. Personally, I didn’t think it could have been any better timed.

The rest of the topics of discussion and play were equally serendipitous. We could talk about contaminated water sources and how important water is to life, and then we could talk about God choosing Abraham and Moses because He wanted, for the blessing of the whole world, to set aside a special people through whom to flow as our uncontaminated source of life. We talked about the dangers children face from looters and kidnappers and traffickers after natural disasters, and we talked about the dangers the Israelites had faced before King David was put on the scene to solidify their nation, and how God promised someone in the line of David to free people ultimately from their oppressors.

After having built a case, both through educational games about children’s deprivations in Haiti, and through discussion of the rift between people and God, and how God kept reaching out to reconcile even though people keep trying to usurp His position, we watched The Passion of the Christ last night. I had never wanted to watch that movie again after the first time, and I felt exactly the same way after this, the second. (Incidentally, though? It’s really effective as an eating-deterrent.) But, given our debrief after it, I’d say it was positively impactful on the kids. It certainly does give a vivid depiction of what the ultimate end of human beings’ efforts to deify themselves by defacing the image of God, both in themselves and incarnate among them, looks like.

Today was a little more difficult. We ran ahead of schedule, ran out of activities and talks, and everyone was starting to feel not-quite-right for not having eaten in so long. But, much as I don’t want to brag about a spiritual exercise, I do want to brag about these kids I work with on a regular basis. They never cease to impress me, even when they’re lethargic or shy and unresponsive. These seven in particular spent 30 hours together, ingesting only juice and water, learning about difficult topics and reading a whole lot more Bible than they may be used to, but the Grump-o-meter never exceeded a 3 (if the maximum grumpitude is 10), everybody participated in everything, there may have been plenty of food jokes, but hardly anyone truly complained until the last hour, and they all had something intelligent to say about what they had learned through the experience at the end of it. Not only that, but we had a guest chaperone who liked them so much he’s planning on helping out again. And that was foodless!

I’m grateful for my job in spite of some of the inherent stressors, and I’m grateful for the youth group in particular. But I am more than grateful for Jesus, and the reminder of the promises He fulfilled, and how His resurrection life which you can be darn sure I’m celebrating tomorrow, gives us hope for the impossible and  a deeper reason to reach out to those whose situations really are.

Like Auntie, Like Niece

You know how you’re supposed to end up with kids like yourself so you know what your parents went through? Well, clearly I didn’t. My brother did, though. I mean, he ended up with a kid like me. I would say I’m not sure what he did to deserve that, but she’s actually super-adorable, so I don’t think he did too badly on the deal.

Of course, everybody wants their child-relatives to take after them, so maybe I’m just biased. But I’m also out here visiting them (finally, after the thwarted trip in December) and (unless you’re Brother-Dave or Sister-in-Lu) you can’t really gainsay me, now can you?

We were getting in the minivan (yes, the BroFam has a minivan–they’re so . . . family) and TWCN (which, for the uninitiated, stands for “The World’s Cutest Niece” and is pronounced “toucan”) stumbled her shins into the step up while getting in. She set up a wail. “I hurt myself!” she howled.

“Oh,” said Sister-in-Lu, picking her up but not greatly concerned. “Here.” She kissed her on the shin. “Better?”


It was really hard not to laugh, because I remembered both getting overly upset about very small things (I remember it because, unfortunately, I still do it) and people trying the “kiss-it-and-make-it-better” technique and not feeling any discernible change in pain-level. I remember having this suggested to me on occasion and feeling something highly akin to toddler scorn–as if a kiss could undo the pain I was feeling! And since it couldn’t, well then, clearly it was a pain worth crying about.

TWCN looked at me and redoubled her efforts, trying to redouble the sympathy. Sorry, kid. I know how this works. “Ohhhhh!” she howled. (It should be noted that her eyes were entirely dry this whole time.) “Ohhhhh!” I said back, with the beginnings of a grin. “You’ll be fine.” All of a sudden she started laughing. She laughed and laughed and laughed and got in her carseat, and for the rest of the trip said things like, “Here we go!” over and over in hopes of an echo, or “We’re going to Global Market. It’s in Midtown. Where is it? There it is!”

She also likes to pretend she’s book characters. Apparently after Christmas for a really long time she pretended she was “Mama Mary” and her favourite bear, a formerly white and fluffy and now grey and scraggly toy usually named “Lovey-Bear” was “Baby Jesus.” (This is interesting if you know anything about the book I haven’t been working on much lately.) Right now she seems to be in a phase of pretending to be fictional characters, but she talks about the “real” versions of the characters she’s being as if they weren’t. Gender is unimportant in this game; it’s character that’s important. Tonight she went back and forth between being “Lily,” who is a mouse, and “Chester,” who is evidently also a mouse, though when I was a child reading books he was a cricket and Tucker was the mouse.

I used to do exactly the same thing. I was “Peter Rabbit” or some such “Kitty” or whatever. I think my parents finally put their feet down when I insisted they say the prayers for me before bedtime for “Peter Rabbit” instead of “Jennie.” I was (and still am, relatively speaking, I think) a weird kid, and I’m pretty okay with that now, so I find I’m glad my parents let my imagination run wild, but there’s also a little part of me that feels like there was a little part of me back then that was trying to be contrary, and I still like to be contrary. I started wondering what would it would be like not to cooperate with the fictional character name thing. I started thinking it might be kind of like telling little kid me to stop trying to be someone else and just be herself.

Except that TWCN isn’t little kid me, in spite of our similarities. Treating her as if she was would not be allowing her to be herself either. And maybe part of how she’ll find out who she is, is by pretending to be these other characters. I suspect so. In the meantime, who she is, while sometimes a little contrary, is pretty great.

When I arrived at the house she welcomed me by having arranged a number of her “lovies” (stuffed animals) on the futon where I would be sleeping. She spent the evening running up to me and giving me hugs, and mwah-ing air-kisses at me across the room and grinning at me. We played with my retractable brush and brushed each other’s hair, and we made a mess in the living room that we forgot to clean up. Her daddy had told her that I was going to miss Oscar-Doggy a lot while I was gone so she should give me lots of hugs, and so sometimes, along with the hugs, she would ask me, “Do you miss Oxar-Doggy?”

Tonight she had a bath and wrapped up in a big yellow towel with a hood that looks like a lion’s head. “I wanna go back to Auntie Jenn’s room like a lion,” I heard her say. She was in her pyjamas already by this time, but they put the towel back around her and she trotted down the hall to the doorway of the study where I’m sleeping. “RaH!” she said.

I pretended to be terrified, and then I laughed and said, “Can I give this lion a hug?”

“Yes,” she said.

I got down on my knees and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I love you, TWCN,” I said.

She smiled and looked away and then said, “I’m Lily.”

Ash Wednesday and the Long Thaw

(And a public service announcement. A little later.)

The point has already been made over here that this has been an excessively snowy winter. Not only did it snow for almost the entire month of January, but it never warmed up enough in between blasts for any of the stuff that had already fallen to melt. Now that it has started, it’s taking forever. Well, a month and counting. That’s not forever, but it’s a long time for a melt. Even in Narnia, where it was “always winter but never Christmas” for years on end, once Aslan got “on the move,” things thawed out pretty quickly.

(We need some Aslan around here.)

When the first tiny thaw happened, I think people were skeptical, and rightly so, because the six- and seven-foot plow-drifts lost maybe an inch in height, and yet puddles formed everywhere, and then the very next day, the temperatures plunged again and suddenly we were all ice-skating. Things have carried on like that for quite a while. The front walk at my house collects rainwater in the summer and melt-water in the winter, and just about every other day for the last few weeks it’s been a toss-up whether I need to put crampons on my shoes to get over the ice floes in one piece, or whether I need to invest in some Wellies. Sometimes both. Sometimes the ice is a very thin layer over the mud underneath.

Pastor Barry went on vacation to a nice, sunny warm place, and when he came back he asked the Early Service what had happened while he was away. One parishioner said, “Well, we had a mini-thaw.”

“Yes,” said Pastor Barry, “I noticed that the snow in my yard is now only two feet high instead of four.”

That is not a mini-thaw. That is the kind of thaw that would clear the residue of most snowstorms to make room for the next one. It only looked like a mini-thaw because there was so much snow to begin with. Over the weekend a Couple of Friends from New York stayed over and the wife observed, “You still have so much snow up here!” And I thought, “We do? The deck’s almost clear, and I can see grass.” There are still remaining drift piles standing in strange places now that their surrounding landscape is turning to grass and street, but most people’s yards are still primarily covered, I guess. But it’s going. Little by little it’s going.

It’s kind of cliche, I guess, but it’s so much easier to hope for things–for myself, for my friends–when spring is on its way. (You might notice, if you go back to March-ish posts from my old blog, that I often get a little hopeful at this time of year.) Today, and it may only be for today, but let’s run with it, I’m thinking: Sometimes people get so much winter dumped on them. It just snows and snows and is always winter and never Christmas, and people look at them and think something like, “Man. That person has the worst luck ever.” And they think to themselves, “Nothing ever changes,” and they give up. Everybody thinks that people can’t change. Unless they’ve seen it happen. So I’m thinking: I don’t know the future and I only know snippets of the will of God from what He says about it in His book, and I’m still kind of a skeptic, but maybe some people just need, and will have, a long thaw. Maybe they’re thawing already but nobody knows it, maybe least of all themselves.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and it’s a day of solemnity and discipline and maybe self-deprivation, but I feel happy and hopeful today, more than I have in a while. Because it’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent which is, in a way, a “long thaw” before the transformation of life that is Easter. I know some people find it really hard to imagine, let alone believe, that some dude got slaughtered and then got up three days later as if He had been taking an excessively long nap, but I believe it because I’ve seen lives transformed by His Spirit, and I believe lives can be transformed by His Spirit because I trust He really did come back to life. I have a lot of stuff going on this Lent, but I hope and pray to find some stillness during which to reach out and touch His face, as it were, and to wait for the life and transformations that are coming. I hope and pray you can, too. It might snow a few more times between now and then, but someday the thaw will be complete.

(In the meantime, if you live in the United States in one of the states that observes Daylight Savings Time, don’t forget to change your clocks this Saturday night!)